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Get state out of liquor sales: Yes on I-1100, no on I-1105

Post by Kim Bradford on Oct. 16, 2010 at 8:00 pm |
October 22, 2010 5:42 pm

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.
Time may be up on this state’s Prohibition-era liquor monopoly, but not just any privatization scheme will do.

Of the two liquor initiatives on November’s ballot, only one ends all state intervention in the liquor market plus has the added advantage of heading off an unholy fight over new liquor taxes.

Initiative 1100 is that measure. Voters who want to get the state out of the business of booze should approve it while voting no on its competing measure, Initiative 1105.

Backers of I-1105 suggest voters should endorse both measures and let the Legislature hash out the differences.

That’s poor – irresponsible, even – advice. The Legislature should be focused on fixing a $3 billion hole in the budget next year, not on patching together liquor control reform. Chances are, lawmakers would punt reconciliation to the courts. It could be years before the dust settles and voters knew what they had.

I-1105 has the further flaw of repealing existing liquor taxes while banking on the Liquor Control Board and Legislature’s ability to put new taxes in place.

That would be another senseless distraction for legislators who will be dealing with not only a budget crisis, but also the possibility of a reinstituted two-thirds requirement for tax increases.

I-1100 is cleaner. It keeps the existing liquor taxes in place and, as a result, poses less of a threat to the state’s beleaguered general fund.

It also is the truer form of privatization. While I-1105 continues both the requirement that retailers use a middle man to buy liquor and the restriction against bulk discounts on beer and wine, I-1100 removes all market controls.

We understand that some may see that as the initiative’s biggest defect. Members of The News Tribune editorial board share others’ concerns that greater access to hard liquor – a sure effect of either initiative – will harm families and communities.

While the board is divided on whether continued state control is preferable to privatization, it is persuaded that liquor sales are not an essential service of state government. If Washington is to preserve its ability to provide essential educational and social services, it will need to pare state programs – even worthwhile ones.

Should one or both of the liquor initiatives pass, we urge the Legislature to strengthen the ability of cities and counties to control the number and location of liquor stores.

The state Liquor Control Board also should work to add rotgut liquor to the list of fortified beers and wines banned in Alcohol Impact Areas and to streamline the process for establishing new AIAs.

Ending the state’s monopoly on booze might be an easy sell for many voters, but it is not a trouble-free proposition.

Enforcement of the remaining liquor laws is key. State government will always have a legitimate interest in regulating liquor sales and consumption to protect public safety and neighborhood integrity.

Voters who think the state’s involvement should end there should cast their ballots for Initiative 1100.

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